Magazine article Geographical

The Age of Volunteering: Volunteering Isn't Just the Preserve of Elderly Matrons and Eager Young Students Taking a Gap-Year Break. Whether You're Keen to Get Away from Your Parents for a While, Need Some Respite from Your Office Routine or Looking to Spice Up Your Retirement, Do Yourself a Favour by Doing Someone Else One

Magazine article Geographical

The Age of Volunteering: Volunteering Isn't Just the Preserve of Elderly Matrons and Eager Young Students Taking a Gap-Year Break. Whether You're Keen to Get Away from Your Parents for a While, Need Some Respite from Your Office Routine or Looking to Spice Up Your Retirement, Do Yourself a Favour by Doing Someone Else One

Article excerpt

One of the truly great things about volunteering is its egalitarian nature. There will always be projects in need of help, so it doesn't matter how old or young, skilled or unskilled you are, you're sure to be able to find an outlet for your energies. With a little application and determination you could find yourself having a life-altering, unforgettable experience, even on a very local level. Naturally, time, locality and available funds are likely to be decisive factors if you have no real income. But no matter what your circumstances, it's more than likely that an organisation will be able to meet your specific requirements.

Starting at the younger end of the scale, Millennium Volunteers (MV) is a government-funded initiative for people aged 16 to 24. It sports a rather New Labour mantra--"Build what you're into"--and since 1999 more than 65,000 have. The scheme operates on a local level, promoting community-based voluntary work. MV coordinators help develop skills and gain experiences that will count when putting together a CV prior to college or university or when applying for jobs.

Twenty-three-year-old Amy Parsons uses MV's Eastleigh Branch. "Socially motivated voluntary work is very popular--things that are about community, teamwork, satisfaction and unusual experiences," she says. "But I'm not being totally selfless. I know this improves my CV because my voluntary work has been noticed at interviews. Of course, that's part of the reason I do it--it will further my career."

But for many young people, the confines of home life, and the restricted horizons of local voluntary work don't offer the one thing that they hanker for most: the chance to slip the parental net and find adventure. A whole raft of organisations offer a controlled means of achieving this. They temper an understanding of youthful exuberance with the realisation that it has its limitations: namely inexperience and the need for structured involvement.

Raleigh International's expeditions are set lip with this in mind, balancing the necessary levels of experienced, professional supervision with the need for fun, youthful staff and a relaxed atmosphere. More than 26,000 people from 80 nations have participated in Raleigh expeditions, which target such diverse destinations as Chile, Ghana and Borneo. This year alone, 1,400 people are taking part in its programmes.

Expeditions are divided into three areas: community, environment and adventure conservation. Joanne McAtee went to Belize as part of her gap year: "It was the obvious choice--a break from studying, a chance to see an amazing country and to meet people. Raleigh promises an experience of a lifetime and it surpassed all my expectations. I met people whose past is as different from mine as black is from white. Yet we shared some brilliant times and had more in common than would at first have seemed possible."

The trouble is that life-altering experiences don't come cheap. The fundraising target for anyone to participate on an all-inclusive Raleigh International-style expedition can be as high as 3,500 [pounds sterling]. Support is made available to help you reach this goal, but with the spectre of university fees looming, you may well have second thoughts.

Alison Whittaker volunteered through BSES Expeditions, an established business supported by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). …

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